Musical Chairs

Chamber Music Society squeezed out after Trianon Theatre changes hands
A NEW BEGINNING: Peter Pau and Susanna Pau, who owns an affiliate of Sand Hill Property Company, bought the Trianon Theatre for $5.2 million and leased it to the New Beginnings Community Church. Photo by Nicholas Chan

When Tedd Lorraine sent out season brochures to 1,300 customers for San Jose Chamber Music Society's upcoming concerts at the Trianon Theater, he had no idea that the theater would soon be shuttered. He had already renewed a contract with the theater for its concerts in the next season.

The Chamber Music Society have hosted artists from the Bay Area, the nation and worldwide at the Trianon Theater since 1994. For over a decade, 5 other musical groups have also contracted with the Trianon theater. And artists have hailed the theater as downtown San Jose's preeminent concert hall.

"It's a building with dignity," Lorraine, music director for Chamber Music Society says.

"It had damn near perfect acoustics," music director of San Jose Chamber Orchestra Barbara Day Turner added.

Then, Lorraine was hit with bad news. Peter Pau and Susanna Pau, who owns an affiliate of Sand Hill Property Company, bought the theater for $5.2 million, leasing the theater to the New Beginnings Community Church. "Unbeknownst to us, the owner of Trianon has the place up for sale," Lorraine says. "A representative of the new owner called us, saying that they are canceling our contracts for the next season."

Other musical groups were also kept in the dark. All of their contracts were canceled. "Nobody would answer our questions whether or not it was for sale until right went it through," Musical Director of the Mission Chamber Orchestra of San Jose Emily Ray says.

According to Pastor Tilden Fang, the Evangelical Christian Church based in Redwood City will host worship gatherings and live music performances at its new site. It'll equip a "high definition display which will be very likely to be prominent in the auditorium," he says, for people to livestream teachings held in Redwood city. The church plans to revamp the theater by March 2020. It's leasing the theater below market rate, and the church hopes to purchase the building in the future.

"We recognize that it has been an important venue for the performing arts community and we're hoping to potentially collaborate with the performing arts community," Fung added.

Nonetheless, musical groups were left on a lurch, scrambling to find new locations. Artistic director of South Bay Guitar Society Jerry Snyder signed a new contract with the First Methodist Church. "But it's nowhere as good as the Trianon," Snyder says. "The Trianon was a beautiful place for acoustic. Every artist says I want to come back."

San Jose Chamber Music Society settled for the San Jose State University (SJSU) Concert Hall. "Now it's a challenge to get the word out," Lorraine says. The City of San Jose kicked in a special grant to cover their expenses for relocating. The Sandhill affiliate covered for its wasted marketing materials. But ticket sales plunged 14 percent. And it's offering discounted tickets at $5 for SJSU students.

Lorraine was able to reschedule all of the upcoming performances. So the Chamber Music Society will be hosting its season opener featuring the Calidore String Quartet on October 20th, featuring Pulitzer Prize-winner Caroline Shaw at the SJSU Concert Hall.

Calidore String Quartet
Oct 20, 7pm, $37+
SJSU Concert Hall, San Jose

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